The talk of the lake last week was a boat that crashed Wednesday evening next to the culvert underneath the Ebony Road bridge during a long day of heavy rainfall.
The pontoon boat owner, who requested not to be identified, joked on Thursday afternoon, not long before it was pulled out of the water by a red crane from a Redwine’s of Roanoke Rapids rig, that his boat was about to go viral.
He wasn’t far off. Video and photos from the crash had already widely circulated on social media the night before as waves smacked the vessel into one side of the culvert opening, facing north. On Thursday, a photo shared on the Lake Gaston Community Information Facebook page showing the boat being lifted out had 239 likes, 85 comments and 50 shares.
The boater, who is not a Lake Gaston resident, wasn’t laughing on Wednesday at about 5:30 p.m., though. He said he could have lost his life.
N.C. Wildlife officers on the scene Thursday confirmed there were no injuries to the boater or his passengers.
“The current was rolling so fast through there, it spun the boat and pinned me up against that side there,” the boat owner said, pointing to the ledge he grabbed. “I told everybody to get off the boat, get on dry land. I stayed on.
“They were trying to pull it around to get us back lined straight so I could just take off forward and the current just kept washing it back, washing it back. Eventually, the water came onto the back of the boat and it started sinking. I had to jump off the front of the boat onto the ledge over there.”
The boat party had been out striper fishing and the owner, who said he has 30 years of experience on the water and owns three other boats, knew the rising water levels meant he would have less clearance through the culvert.
But he seemed to get through it fine before the currents jostled the boat.
“It looked like the ocean right here,” the boater said Thursday, waiting for crews to arrive to retrieve the boat that was essentially torn in half.
Sea Tow was on the scene all day before Redwine’s, the Warren County Sheriff’s Department and the Littleton Volunteer Fire Department arrived about 1:30 p.m. and restricted driving access over the bridge for about an hour and 15 minutes.
“It’s completed totaled,” the owner said of the boat. “12 grand down the drain. But it ain’t gonna deter me from going back out and buying another one.”
Water levels and safety
Some residents have observed the water levels last week being as high as they’ve seen in many years, leading to a number of runaway boats, flooded docks or debris scattered around the lake.
For Wednesday, Dominion Energy forecasts levels to be at 200.3-200.6 feet while the lake is still in flood control operational mode.
On Thursday when the boat was removed from Songbird Creek, the levels were listed at 200.5-201.3.
Brian Goldsworthy of the Lake Gaston Water Safety Council said the water was as high as he’s seen it in his five full years on the lake.
“I happened to go down to my dock,” Goldsworthy said, “and I was really shocked to see how high the water was up.”
Goldsworthy properly tethered his boat, so it didn’t go anywhere, and he reminded others to make sure they don’t leave items on their docks when they know it might flood.
Fields Johnson, who was managing AF Wake near the Eaton Ferry Bridge Thursday, said it was an abnormal day and the water was higher than he’s seen it in a long time.
“We’re also advocates of boater safety and education, making sure that everybody that is on the water is being responsible with their wakes,” Johnson said. “And when the water is as high as it is today, it’s really important to just be mindful of your wakes and just stay out in the main lake if you can, far off of shorelines, just try not to throw huge wakes and wreck anybody’s stuff.”